A quarter of families across England are missing out on vital health visits as their baby reaches their first birthday, research by the NSPCC has found.
According to the charity, this is increasing the risk of mental health issues with the parents going undetected. Data from Public Health England for 2017/18 has also revealed that these 12 month visits drop to around one in two for families living in London.
In addition, further NSPCC research highlights that antenatal visits are particularly inconsistent, with an estimated 38% of families not receiving a health visit before the mother gives birth.
‘The reduction in universal contacts by health visitors following the loss of one in four health visitors over the past 4 years, often accompanied by fragmenting of continuity of care, means that there may be a generation of children and new families with emotional health needs which are going unrecognised,’ said Dr Cheryll Adams CBE, Executive Director at the Institute for Health Visiting.
According to the Institute of Health Visiting, the transfer of budgetary responsibility for health visiting services from the NHS to local authority public health in 2015 has coincided with a significant reduction in the public health budget and workforce numbers.
There has been a 26% fall in health visitors employed by the NHS operating nationwide between 2015 and 2019, with almost half of those still in the service working with caseloads of more than 400 children each. The Institute of Health Visiting recommends a maximum of one health visitor to every 250 children to ensure a safe service is delivered.
‘The Children’s Commissioner has already expressed her concern regarding hidden children, those with significant needs who may not be sufficiently well known to services,’ added Dr Adams. ‘We are aware that the number of referrals to child mental health services has doubled over the past few years and this can only be set to increase further unless there is new investment into supporting new families.’